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Tuesday, 1 May, 2001, 11:39 GMT 12:39 UK
Should race be an election issue?

With a general election looming in Britain, the issue of race is back on the political agenda.

The Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, has accused the opposition Conservative Party of pandering to racist attitudes.

But the Conservatives in turn accused Labour of playing the race card by shamelessly misrepresenting Tory views on issues like asylum and immigration.

Hundreds of MPs, from all the main parties, have signed a controversial pledge designed to ensure a racism-free election campaign.

But does that mean that race is off-limits as an election issue? Should race be discussed during the election campaign? If so, how? If not, why not? Is the issue in danger of being buried in political mudslinging?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

One way of discrediting our democratic heritage is to suppress legitimate debate about any subject

Tez Houghton, UK
One way of discrediting our democratic heritage is to suppress legitimate debate about any subject. Asking representatives to avoid talking about a subject, even as sensitive as race, is to accept that censorship of debate is allowed. This plays right into the hands of people who will seek other means of expressing their opinions if the democratic process does not allow it. I for one would not be happy if that were the case.
Tez Houghton, UK

As a person of mixed race, I feel that race should be an election issue as it is the only way to have the parties views exposed. The Conservatives are putting themselves forward as a racist party which will result in the black vote and the non-racist vote moving to Labour. I view this as a good thing. Race was also an election issue in Apartheid South Africa resulting in change for the majority of exploited African people.
Anne Giwa-Amu, England

As a person of mixed race, I feel that race should be a election issue as it is the only way to have the parties' views exposed. The Conservatives are putting themselves forward as a racist party which will result in the black vote and the non-racist vote moving to Labour. I view this as a good thing.
Anne Giwa-Amu, England

Race should be an election issue, but can someone tell me? How can the TUC have a Black Workers Congress, a media group have an Ethnic Multicultural Media awards show? What would be the reaction if we had a White Workers Congress?
Brian C, UK

I don't think race should be an issue in the General Election

Graham Smith, England
I don't think race should be an issue in the General Election and I thought at first it was a good idea for the Commission for Racial Equality to draw up the guidelines it did, but know I think it has just helped give publicity to certain racist politicians who will not sign the pact ie John Townsend MP. I do not think that Michael Portillo is racist but by not signing the deal he has given the impression he is racist. It would have been a lot better and caused a lot less harm to himself and the Conservative Party if he had taken the couple of seconds it takes to sign a piece of paper, after all, it has taken him much longer arguing his case for not signing it anyway.
Graham Smith, England

One way of discrediting our democratic heritage is to suppress legitimate debate about any subject. Asking representatives to avoid talking about a subject ,even as sensitive as race, is to accept that censorship of debate is allowed. This plays right into the hands of people who will seek other means of expressing their opinions if the democratic process does not allow it. I for one would not be happy if that were the case.
Tez Houghton, UK

It was interesting that Robin Cook decided to talk about race just before the census. He used his speech to argue against the view that there was a 'British' race. White people completing the census form in England are invited to define themselves as British, Irish or Other. White people in Scotland are invited to define themselves as Scottish, Other British, Irish or Other. Robin Cook did not come out and deny the existence of a Scottish identity. The term British is on the form, but we have been told there is no such thing. Cook's message has a deliberate double meaning. He could deny the English both English and British identity, and at the same time reinforce his nationalist credentials by airing the case (well supported in Scotland) that Scots people are Scottish, not British. It is a subtle and deceptive use of the race card for the election, and creates an amusing dilemma for the Census
David, England

Racism is an emotive subject in the UK and let's not kid ourselves the public is being both duped and lured away from the vital issues confronting the Government's record by people who are in power (or want to be in power) and want to remain in power. These people know race is an emotive issue and they basically want to stir up debate and why? So key issues get brushed under the carpet. Is the health service improving? Are there the sort of meaningful jobs about for people who have qualifications or do they simply end up on a meaningless production line? Is the taxpayer getting real value for money? On top of the wasted millions on advertising we now hear of the wasted millions spent on a Home Office software programme! It's not race we should be talking about it is competence for the post!
Patrick Wright, DUK (DisUnitedKingdom)

Turning race into an election issue will just create hostility. In a truly multicultural country, people do not worry about people's colour at all. It is completely dismissed as irrelevant, and this is what should be done.
Emma T, Australia

By bringing up this debate over whether race should be an election issue they have made it into an election issue. Racism is an important issue which should be discussed but I think it is wrong to bring it up in an election as a tool to make one party look worse than another.
Rach, Scotland

Why do the members of the right-wing press persist in stirring up trouble by constantly referring to illegal immigrants whom, even if not at risk of persecution in their home countries, are only looking for a better life for themselves and their families? If I had the choice of earning a pittance in my own country, or emigrating to America, or France or even racially intolerant Britain, I would seize the chance. I am not advocating unrestricted entry for asylum seekers, but I do think that we should be more sympathetic to those who wish to come here. That means treating them with respect - not being 'a soft touch'.
Matthew Preston, UK

Racial prejudice and immigration are two completely separate issues

Alastair T, UK
Is it just me, or has everyone gone mad? As far as I am concerned, racial prejudice and immigration are two completely separate issues. Why does the talk of more stringent immigration laws mean that they are racist? I have white British friends who have tried to go to live and work in America and Australia - they were refused entry. My sister wanted to move to Canada several years ago to live with her boyfriend who was working out there. It took 8 months to get a visa and work permit. These countries have their own immigration policies; they are not being racist, just 'cautious'.
Alastair T, UK

The Commission for Racial Equality. The majority of its members are from ethnic minorities. Only 7% of the population are from ethnic minorities. Should they not be investigating themselves?
Keith, Huntingdon, England

I was born in England and have recently returned to live there with my husband and family after spending 30 years in South Africa. I find a lot of English to be more racist than I experienced in South Africa. I felt proud when Nelson Mandela was freed and the whole nation voted in a democratic election. However, race issues should be spoken about freely and all races should have their say.
Julie, England

The CRE pledge is harmless for decent people. Finally ethnic minorities have a device for measuring prospective parliamentary candidates. Those who have not signed the CRE pledge will be implicitly labelled racists.
Anthony Wade

For politicians like Mr Cook to speak the way he has shows that he denies the multi-racial origins of the indigenous population of these isles. The fact that many of us enjoy cuisine that is representative of other national or regional cooking styles has nothing whatever to do with racial intolerance or indifference.
Mike Perry, England

I feel that it is another clear and easy point which has been blown out of proportion by all parties. What started off as a simple piece of paper to sign has turned into another big story which could have been avoided
Andrew Wharton, United Kingdom

A step in the right direction

Jason, USA
I am amazed that a country with such a negligible (non-Caucasian) minority population even has these types of arguments. The non-white minority population of England is only about 6 or 7%. Anyone who is complaining of immigrant invasions or "losing" British culture is just using euphemism to cover their xenophobia. Many of my UK friends comment that the U.S. is obsessed with race, at least over here it is discussed, positively or negatively. Signing a no racism pledge seems a bit naive but perhaps it is a step in the right direction.
Jason, USA

Race is an issue which should be discussed. It's not an issue which will disappear into thin air as some may wish!
D Patel, UK

I have read a lot of comments in which people seem to be congratulating themselves for living in a country in which racism appears to be a distant and receding dream. I am black and of Caribbean origin. I was educated in England and briefly worked there, but now I live in Belgium and have done for four years. In all that time, I have yet to hear one racial slur against me in any language I understand, English, French or Flemish. Yet, whilst in England, I have lost count of the number of times I have been verbally abused while walking down a street of an evening.

On the CRE issue, I side with the Tories on this one. No one need sign something blindingly obvious, unless they have something to hide. Standing up against it in principle was a courageous move by Portillo, whatever his real intentions were, for it exposes him to a lot more scrutiny than those who obediently tow the party line. Britain has a long, long way to go before it rids itself of certain ingrained attitudes. If you want to understand what racism is about, try being black in Britain.
Donald Desmond, Belgium

I am not racist but I am an advocate of fairness

Helen, UK
Race is an election issue. There are members of the white community who suffer racism in areas where they are the minority. Any white person highlighting this would merely be branded a racist. I am not racist but I am an advocate of fairness. This issue has been one-sided for far too long.
Helen, UK

I believe there is a problem of racism in the UK. And I blame the tabloids' jingoistic headlines in large part. Every time we play the Germans at football, out come the tired old WWII references. And they're similarly unbalanced on the subject of asylum seekers. However, I think overly politically correct organisations such as the CRE do more to encourage racism than to discourage it.
Rob, UK

I completely support a person's right to free speech. I also believe each person should speak responsibly - which is all the CRE are asking. Should I be able to say something that will endanger my neighbour's safety? NO. I work for a multinational company with a strong diversity policy. I would be sacked if I spoke in a way contrary to the guidelines laid down by the CRE. In my birth country (I am an Australian-born Briton) I would be arrested. Am I still able to speak freely on any subject I wish including RACE (which I often do with my British-born Chinese partner)? YES. Why should our politicians not be subject to the same responsibilities?
Sam Shaw, UK

The problem is that the Left play the race card and then accuse anybody who stands up against it of racism. For example, how many blacks are genuinely offended by the nursery rhyme "baa baa black sheep"? I can't say any of my black friends are. In fact, most of them are more concerned with the stereotyped "white socialist do-gooder" trying to decide what might offend them. Why not ask people? If a prospective MP uses blatantly racist language, don't vote for them. The power of the collective vote is worth more than a rap on the knuckles from Head Office. As for the CRE, are they joking? Do they really want to encourage discrimination by forcing more ethnic groups into Westminster even if the democratic vote is for someone else? I can't think of any better way to ignite racial tension.
Karl Peters, UK

It looks like the British will yet again have to take another page from across the Atlantic and start thinking of their country as a land of immigrants.
T.J. Cassidy, U.S.A.

I have been abused verbally and physically by racist individuals

Mo, UK
Race should not be even an issue except the individual's qualities - not because of their skin colour but of their contribution to the political system. I must say, after moving here from Canada, that England is a really biased and racially built society. I have nothing against the country, just the people. Just these few months since living here I have already been abused verbally and physically by racist individuals. And now that the wounds have not yet healed, I still think this is a racially segregated and hate-filled society.
Mo, UK

I think people in this country are scared to talk about racism openly. Yes, race should be an issue, but not an excuse.
Nicolas, UK

Robin Cook claimed there is no such thing as the British race or British ethnic origin. Why then does my census form ask me to tick a box to confirm my ethnic origin as British?
Jeff, UK

We must hear and respect each other's side of the argument

Rodger Edwards, England
Why does the Commission for Racial Equality want to put a lid on the discussion of race during the election campaign? Come to think of it, who will be the arbiter of what is racist? The spokespersons of an unelected quango? Come off it! In my opinion, people who think that the way forward is to stifle debate and pass laws to force us to like each other should be taken off the public payroll as soon as possible. Race is an emotive and difficult issue. However, I feel that the debate must be held if we are to stand any chance of moving towards a more tolerant society. We must hear and respect each other's side of the argument.
Rodger Edwards, England

Beware! Racism is an evil, ugly word - if it were to become an election issue, then refer to the late Enoch Powell's 'Rivers of Blood' speech. It would all end in tears!
JonC, UK

As an Englishman, I don't want race to be an election issue but I do want the question of bogus asylum seekers or economic migrants on the agenda. Politicians should focus on how to put pressure on the out-dated conventions of the United Nations who are the real cause of this problem.
Martin, England

Well race news articles are on the TV and in the papers nearly every week so surely it is an issue!
Greg Muscat, London

What never ceases to amaze me on all these talks about immigration is that no one ever mentions the outflow of British people to other parts of the world. From the way people talk about it, it's as if this tiny island is a small boat just about to sink if any more people are let on it. I wouldn't be surprised if there are actually more people leaving than coming in. Over the ages some of the Brits abroad caused more havoc than any number of asylum seekers (such as myself) ever will here - and this nation would be poorer for it if they hadn't, so hang on a minute everybody.

Restricting freedom of speech is not the right approach to go about this

Ashish, UK
As a young kid growing up in suburban London I have vivid memories of my family and I being racially abused on the streets and school playground. Having taught a few years ago in a school and seeing society in general I think we have gone beyond that period as young children growing up, interacting with people from the ethic minorities have learnt each others cultures/values. However in saying that I still believe that institutions in the UK still have racial bias and this is the next step which society in the UK has to take.

Restricting freedom of speech is not the right approach to go about this. They should ask the parties to have more candidates from ethic minorities to be selected and for seats in which they have a chance of winning!
Ashish, UK

The whole debate about racism, promoted by this Government is a political smokescreen to cover up their abysmal record on illegal immigration and bogus asylum seekers. These issues have absolutely nothing to do with race or religion. Those that seek to stifle open and meaningful debate on these issues by branding anyone who does so a racist makes it even more pertinent that unelected bodies and narrow minded bigots should not win the day.
Ralph E Snape, UK

Debates per se, do not achieve its original intended purpose. Debates on race filter down into violence and discrimination at the grass root level. The Tories should aim at attracting the ethnic minority vote, instead of rabble rousing and creating fear in the majority. After all the ethnic minorities are here in keeping with UK's vision for economic development.
Girish, UK

Quite apart from the obviously hypocritical stance taken by Labour - to try and claim that race should not be an election issue and then make it an issue - there are more fundamental issues at stake here. The politically inspired actions taken by the CRE and Labour smack more of 'thought police' than encouraging democratic debate. If an MP makes racist remarks then he or she will be judged by those remarks. The Labour/CRE move has put the focus more on their hostility to democratic freedoms.
Pete, UK

We should not be afraid of this debate

Riad Mannan, UK
Of course race should be an issue in the election. As an Asian in this country, I'd like to encourage a robust and constructive debate about race, immigration and asylum. We should not be afraid of this debate, as long as it is not wrapped in racist language or attitude. The trouble is that several high-profile MPs have done just that and therefore cannot bring themselves to sign up to the CRE compact.
Riad Mannan, UK

Race should not be an issue but immigration can. Residence in the UK for a non-UK resident should be as a result of one of two criteria: 1) As a refugee from real danger and/or 2) bringing skills beneficial to the nation as a whole. It does seem odd that Britain, which has one of the more relaxed immigration policies, is branded racist whereas other nations that have strict policies are not.
Stephen, UK

I am a white Anglo-Saxon and incredibly proud to be so. Confusingly for some, this does not mean I am prejudiced against other races. Those who believe Britain to be a racist society should try being a Kurd in Northern Iraq. If you don't feel that minorities are properly represented in parliament, then use your vote.
Christopher, UK

There's no such thing as race. All there is, is people.
Justin, UK

Politicians of all parties need to take the race issue seriously

John Wadsworth, England
Inevitably race has to be an election issue. Labour and the Tories both support controlling immigration, an act which in the past has contributed to the unique and rich character of this nation. Until potential parties of Government publicly see racism as an issue that needs to be tackled at the roots, immigrants in this country will be subjected to the daily victimisation and harassment that most experience. A clear stance by all political parties will, hopefully, show the tabloid and Tory press that racism is unacceptable in this country and hopefully prevent them from misinforming the public and stoking the fires of hatred from which the BNP draw their strength. However, politicians of all parties need to take the race issue seriously, rather than dealing with the frivolous and exotic.
John Wadsworth, England

I have no problem with anybody's race, colour or creed but this country already has too high a population and for that reason alone I am against uncontrolled immigration - white, black, yellow or any other. We need space to live harmoniously together and overcrowding will cause more problems that have no racial basis but will be turned into a race issue. Those people who are misguided enough to support uncontrolled immigration are very shortsighted.
Alan Williams, England

I wouldn't sign such a document simply because I know I'm not racist and resent the implication that not signing the document seems to imply otherwise to some people. It's unfortunate that prejudice causes 'communities' who feel discriminated against to end up creating community-specific newspapers and groups, which ends up causing more segregation. Being white, it's only now and then that I notice how many newspapers and magazines are full of white, straight faces and perhaps, if they were more representative of the true diversity of the nation, then there wouldn't be a need for 'minority' papers and magazines. These minority papers (and groups/clubs) end up, by default, being a small part of the problem because they themselves are excluding people who aren't part of that minority. One day we'll get it right. I hope.
Terraliptar Ungomis, UK

Ordinary people whose colour isn't white also have the right to walk the streets

Anup, UK
At the end of the day what does it really mean to deal with the race issue? For the many Black or Asian Britons it could mean real dangers of assault or verbal abuse. Look at the statistics of racially orientated crimes, and look at how sharply they change for the worse during election time. Now try to imagine the face of a young child visiting the hospital to see his/her dad or relative - well, that is the reality. Media and politicians may have the right to free speech, but remember ordinary people whose colour isn't white also have the right to walk the streets.
Anup, UK

Of course the issue of the recent influx of immigrants should be an issue discussed in the election. The government, which is constantly pushing multi-culturalism, would prefer that this be not so. This New Labour group are a bunch of Yuppies, who don't see matters from the ordinary Briton's viewpoint.
John, USA

Politicians should not be racist, and most British ones aren't, but race shouldn't be allowed to get in the way of debates over immigration. The Conservatives are not being racist when they stand up for Britain against the mass influx of immigrants.
Geoff, UK

Britain has always had its waves of immigration

Judith, Singapore
As a black Brit, I can say is yes, racism exists in the UK and therefore it will always be an issue for debate. The question is, do we want a debate about how to make multi-cultured Britain better or one that panders to the bigoted minority? Britain has always had its "waves" of immigration, including my parents who answered the call for workers in the 60's. Remember the monarch of the Empire's golden age, Queen Victoria, spoke German as her first language!
Judith, Brit living in Singapore

Candidates in an election should be free to discuss any topic that is relevant to their constituency or their country. To prohibit discussion because of race only goes to inflame resentment. For goodness sake, what happened to free speech? I think it is perfectly correct that politicians should be concerned about the asylum seeker issue and I would ask why so-called asylum seekers trek across many "safe countries" without legal right of entry, before eventually claiming asylum here in Britain?
Wendy, England

Genetic research has shown that 99.99% of the genetic code shared by each human on the planet is identical. Individuals from different 'races' can have greater genetic similarity than individuals from the same 'race'. The reality is that there is no such thing as race. The Tories should be able to have rational discussions on topics such as immigration and asylum without being accused of racism. Centre right parties such as the Conservatives tend to judge people on their individual merits, while socialist parties such as Labour tend to judge people based on their membership of certain racial and economic groups. One wonders who the true racists are.
Alan Murphy, USA

'Divide and Rule' has succeeded in the past. The Conservatives are at it once more! Thank God for honest people who will see through their wicked schemes. Good job, CRE.
Dr R Thomas, Scotland

Politicians should stand up for Anglo-Saxons

Daniel Polwarth, England
The English are a race: Anglo-Saxons. I have a right to protect my heritage, and see that my culture is taken seriously and valued for what it is. People from other cultures who are invited into my country seem to want to take this right away from me. Why can Anglo-Saxon politicians not make their views heard on their identity without being called racists? The fact is that the British (all of us) have changed the world. We invented steam trains, electric lights, telephones. We have an awesome military. We are tolerant. We are good at what we do, and we are told to feel ashamed about it. Anglo-Saxons are an awesome force for world good, but our very success has led to envy and pettiness from lesser cultures. Politicians should stand up for Anglo-Saxons and not hide in fear from the envy of weaker races.
Daniel Polwarth, England

As someone who is of Norman descent, I disagree strongly with Daniel Polwarth's comments about "lesser cultures" and "weaker races". Let me say to him, it's obvious you Anglo's haven't changed in a thousand years.
Mick B, U.K.

The Tories believe there are more votes to be gained by 'playing the race card' than lost. They are so desperate to avoid a humiliation they are going to clutch at any straw they can - including appealing to the racists and xenophobes.
Trevor M. Holding, United Kingdom

The British are already known as the most racist in the world. When they talk about the presence of other races in Britain, do they forget that they got rule in other countries by killing thousands and they ruled there for ages?
Kasim, Canada

Signing a piece of paper says nothing about what is in a man's heart

Keith Spencer, Kuwait
Anything should be an issue in a General Election. Signing a piece of paper says nothing about what is in a man's heart.
Keith Spencer, Kuwait

Yes, we should debate illegal immigration. But more importantly the politicians should also take the opportunity of the elections to emphasise the genuine contribution of legal immigrants in the UK. This way the GOOD are rewarded, the BAD punished...and therefore there is no UGLY!!
Ashvin Suri, UK

I did think there was such a thing as free speech in this country. Or is that just for the Political Elite?
Bruce V Fox, ENGLAND

It is better to know what a political candidate thinks about an issue than to have them subjected to some form of censorship, albeit voluntary. All a decent self-respecting candidate need say is that they regard fundamental human rights as important, and that they endorse the principals of equality etc (assuming they actually do so, of course). Such sentiments will soon stick in the throats of the racially prejudiced. Rather than sign up to self-censorship it would be better to sign up to the values mentioned above.
Philip S Hall, UK

The politicians have had their heads in the sand for too long

Mick, UK/USA
Of course race should be an issue in the elections. The politicians have had their heads in the sand for too long concerning both race and immigration - they're not going to just go away! Race is becoming an increasingly high profile topic in the UK. Deal with it openly, before it explodes!
Mick, UK/USA

Racism has been made a subject for pushing political clout but to what ends? No matter what is said or by whom, I am afraid it is definitely in the mindset of a chosen few that minority classes are always troublemakers. The problems are more deep-rooted than one realises because prejudice is something that one cannot run away from. Admitting to it needs maturity. Rising above it needs understanding.
Paula Sharma, Singapore

The recent statement by Gurbux Singh, chairman of CRE, to the effect that "only nine MPs are drawn from minorities" should serve to all as an indication of his lack of understanding of British democracy. MPs are elected on the basis of individual preference, and not appointed according to their ethnic origins. Indeed, what could be more racist than the latter approach? Once again, the CRE is attempting to stifle any debate on race issues by introducing politically correct doctrine.
David, UK

It's a poor excuse for people to claim that this is about legitimate debate. I'm sick of hearing the phrase "you mention immigration and are branded a racist". The truth is that the people who are continually harping on about immigration really are being racist. Nobody ever grumbled about American or Australian immigrants. We all know the truth here - and the truth is that racism is the driving force. It's like Hitler saying "You can't mention the Jewish problem without being branded anti-Semitic".
Simon Watkins, Wales

The most powerful tool in the election is the vote

John Goss, England
I personally do not think any MP or party should have to sign any form of agreement for the election. If people do not like the Conservatives' attitudes to ethnic minorities - don't vote for them! The most powerful tool in the election is the vote.
John Goss, England

Take it from a citizen of a country that has struggled with the race issue for decades... there are no winners when politicians choose to play the race card. We live in a world in which racial and ethnic diversity is a fact of life. If we are not able to come to terms with this, and learn to respect and appreciate differences, the future looks pretty bleak.
David B, USA

The CRE is just another quango that thinks it can intimidate people. It investigated Anne Robinson recently for her comments on the Welsh. Who do they think they are getting involved in elections? If anyone wants to make race an electoral issue, and it seems Labour do, then that is their choice. Let the voters decide themselves how to respond to that.
Andy Manson, UK

"Is race an issue?" Mr Cook seems to think it is, so it must be!
MER, England

It is now impossible to debate immigration or asylum without automatically being branded as racist. Indeed, it will soon be impossible to level any form of criticism, or discuss any unpopular topic without the thought police trying to ban it. Why is it that so many of these supposedly liberals are so intolerant of opinions that differ from their own? Let's have open debate and free speech as a truly democratic society. We may not agree with the other person's opinion, but two generations of servicemen have died defending the right to express it.
John Gant, UK

As someone who has been married to a member of the so-called ethnic minorities for more than 30 years, the burgeoning growth of the race industry and the exploitative use of the term 'racism' by politicians has done more to make us both feel uncomfortable than ever we did in the sixties when people were free simply to say what they thought. It was a much healthier society then.
Michael, UK

The only way to make progress on the matter of race and racism is to confront it

Simon Stafford, UK
Race is a political matter, whether we like it or not. Politicians have a duty, never mind a right, to talk about the subject, and we, the electorate, have a right to judge them on what they say. Freedom of speech is essential in a healthy democracy and the only way to make progress on the matter of race and racism is to confront it, not to hide it and pretend it is a non-subject in the hope it will go away. If a politician or party chooses to express views that the majority find offensive, then they will suffer at the polls. That is our ultimate sanction on politicians' whose opinions and actions we reject.
Simon Stafford, UK

Having read the CRE statement I can see no reason why any well-minded person would not sign up. It does NOT prohibit open debate but does provide clear guidelines on what is acceptable and what is not. We all live in a secular society and sometimes we (as a society) have to reaffirm our commitment to acceptable standards. The CRE statement is just a mechanism to do this. More importantly it is an open declaration. The reasons given for not signing are frankly pathetic and show the true nature of some of our politicians.
Moin Ghani, UK

It seems obvious to any reasonable person that the issue of immigration must not be confused with racism. I am both a Labour voter and passionate opponent of racist attitudes. So I am amazed at Mr Blair and the Labour party trying to play the race card in such a clumsy manner and then accusing the Tories of doing exactly the same. The CRE may have a lot to answer for at times with its own political agenda, but at least they were trying to get some ground rules laid which, if studied closely, ask for no more than all the mainstream political parties should be able to manage anyway. Have a proper immigration debate and stop this childish mudslinging.
Stu, UK

There really isn't a significant problem in the UK with racism

Simon Baker, UK
In one of the most tolerant countries in the world, why do we even need to ask this question? There really isn't a significant problem in the UK which concerns racism; there is one involving the illegal entry into the UK by persons with false travel documents or none at all, who use the out dated Asylum laws as a convenient way round the Immigration laws. Perhaps there are some people who find it useful to deliberately confuse the two issues to prevent public debate about a subject that is more about the maintenance of law and order than racism.
Simon Baker, UK

It is about time people discussed the issue of race and racial policies openly. Only then will you be able to address the problem. Please do not fall into the trap of my country, Malaysia, where it is categorised as a sensitive issue and not open to any honest discussion. Such a stance for the last three decades has not made it any healthier and it is just below the surface, waiting to explode at anytime!
Ram Nair, Brunei

In some comments, claiming that ethnic minorities are under-represented in Parliament, is the assumption that an ethnic group can only be represented by an MP from the same background.

Well, let's see where that assumption leads. First we must ensure that each constituency has an MP of the correct ethnic group. How will we decide which racial category a particular constituency falls into? Even if we manage to do that, we'd have to bar candidates of the 'wrong' ethnic background from standing. Applying that principle across the board, ethnic minority candidates would be barred from standing in predominantly white areas. Suddenly we're perpetrating the worst kind of racism - and incidentally throwing democracy down the toilet.

The fact is, race has nothing to do with whether your MP properly represents you in Parliament. What DOES matter is his/her integrity and commitment.
Paul Hicks, UK

There is a huge debate in the UK about immigration and racial prejudice

Douglas Hendry, South Africa
Not talking about race and the associated problems is burying your head in the sand. There is a huge debate in the UK about immigration and racial prejudice, not to mention political-correctness, and it is fitting that the problems should be aired, and the views of the parties, and their candidates, shown to the people.
Douglas Hendry, South Africa

The "Race" issue needs to be discussed openly and frankly. It is plain that the indigenous population was never given the chance to vote for a multi-cultural society. They had it foisted upon them and dissenters from the current orthodoxy are being given no opportunity to have their views aired. This is an abuse of freedom of speech and needs to be rectified. Whatever happened to British democracy?
Simon , United Kingdom

The only winner to me seems the racist bigot

Michael Thomas, UK
The issue of race has been used repeatedly by Labour to slap down any rational argument against its own policies on immigration and law and order. The Conservatives have been frequently misquoted. When Mr Hague speaks of Britain as a foreign land, it is because of Labour's policies on the Euro, tax and enterprise that will leave this country unrecognisable as we know the UK now. It has nothing to do with race. To beat a racist you win the argument. How can you win the argument if you've signed up not to talk about it? The only winner to me seems the racist bigot.
Michael Thomas, UK

I am what is known as a true blue Conservative. That is until June the seventh. Michael Portillo's obstinacy in not signing an important, albeit glorified, race charter has led me, as a member of an ethnic minority, to change my vote to Labour. I may not like Tony Blair, but this is one thing I cannot bear.
Dennis, Newcastle, England

It goes without saying that it's disgusting for politicians to pander to populist prejudices for election point-scoring. But frankly I'd rather race does remain an 'issue' if it's a matter of exposing racist policies. At least we can find out this way who not to vote for - politicians are supposed to represent people but how can they do that if they are irrationally prejudiced against members of their constituency?
Laura, UK

No, race shouldn't be an election issue. But the CRE has to have something to do, doesn't it?
Kim, London, England

As a young black man with a passion for politics, I feel it's time to pick up the political football that is racism and suspend the silly season. The eagerness of politicians to sign up to the CRE declaration and ensure that the poisoned chalice of racism isn't brought to the general election table would send out a clear message that all in UK politics are committed to the fight against racism, highlighting that tragedies such as Stephen Lawrence, Damilola Taylor and Wilson Silcott are not forgotten but remembered forever, rather than used by political parties to their own ends. If any aspect of race should play a part in the general election, it should be on the issue of increasing the representation of ethnic minorities in Parliament so that we are represented at least in proportion to, if not in excess of, our number in society.
Jules Mason, United Kingdom

The CRE is a servant of the elected government, not its master

David K, England
Personally, I would not vote for any Parliamentary candidate that signed away his right to free speech to appease the CRE. Remember, the CRE is a servant of the elected government, not its master, so has no business telling people standing in a democratic election what to think or say. This is a disgraceful state of affairs that only a pompous buffoon like Robin Cook could actually make worse.
David K, England

This is "PC" gone mad; we are turning into the States. Surely we should be learning from the US's mistakes and not be forcing people as to what they can and can't say by signing agreements. This is the country of free speech, so let politicians say what they want to say - we never believe them anyway!
Jen, UK

It is not racist to discuss the immigration issue. Continued uncontrolled immigration has an effect on all people of all nationalities and creeds. It is an issue which should be discussed openly and not swept under the carpet hoping it will go away. Face up to it with realism.
Paul Leach, Glos, UK

By raising the issue of racism in such a controversial manner, the government - which should be playing it down as a factor to matter in anything - is highlighting it all the more.
Zahid, UK

Let's dispense with mealy-mouthed political correctness

Oli, England
Should race be an election issue? YES! Of course it should be. Politics should be about real topics, relevant and of concern to real people. Does race fit this category? Yes! Then surely it should not be off the political agenda. Real, informed debate about race and the issues surrounding it is something lacking at this moment. Let's dispense with mealy-mouthed political correctness and look at the truth for once, putting all points of view fairly and not being frightened of offending intolerant minorities.
Oli, England

I agree with Michael Portillo. People should be judged on their actions and not whether they sign bits of paper which contain meaningless platitudes.
Keith, England

The rest of Europe has always looked up to Britain as the true champion of human rights, democratic values and civilisation. Is Britain now falling down the abyss of primitive, pre-enlightenment political campaigning? Hopefully, this is not the case. At least I am convinced that the honourable British Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), will do everything possible to stem this obnoxious tide.
Dieter, Germany

The current climate regarding race issues is reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials in that denying one is racist is taken as evidence that one IS racist. The non-signatories are right in their actions.
Nick, England

It's a bit of a Tory smokescreen to say that this is a freedom of speech issue

Rob, UK
We are not talking about censorship really as politicians should and will talk about race during the election (as we are). The aim surely is that no party should make short-term political gain at the expense of scapegoating a minority race. If politicians can pledge to bring down tax or keep the pound, why can't they pledge not to discriminate against minorities? They are free to refuse to sign. It's a bit of a Tory smokescreen to say that this is a freedom of speech issue.
Rob, UK

Read the pledge and I would not sign it. No point signing something that the police and courts of this country are supposed to deal with. Have those who have signed it decided that our laws are not sufficient to deal with race issues, and so pledges are now needed? Is this the CRE's view too? We sure must be in trouble! Help!! Let's all sign the pledge.
Haile, UK

Why should the subject of RACE be off the election agenda? It concerns very many people in Britain, just like the NHS, Police and Education. I don't see a ban on electioneering on those isssues.
Tony, England

Signing a pledge not to discuss race smacks of censorship, what if the electorate WANTS a debate on race issues?
Mercia, England

A great man once said three hundred years ago " I may disagree with what you say Sir, but I will fight to my death for your right to say it"

Asif Ahmed, UK
I was bullied at school for being a foreigner. I have a real fear that if I am a victim of crime I will not get justice. But do I believe in censorship? - never!
I chose the UK as my home because of its relative value system. There is racism - but less so than in other countries. There is injustice - but the natural inclination towards fairness gives me hope. But above all, there is a healthy appreciation of the fragility of democracy. Censorship does not conform to those value system.
A great man once said three hundred years ago " I may disagree with what you say Sir, but I will fight to my death for your right to say it". I wholeheatedly agree.
Asif Ahmed, UK

Fairly shameless electioneering by Robin Cook, I'm afraid. I know politicians are not always recognised for honesty in their public pronouncements these days, but I suspect Mr Portillo and Mr Gummer are actually being more honest than Robin Cook in this instance. And if you think I am a Tory voter, think again.
Henry, UK

I believe this issue has been blown up entirely to keep discussions away from 'real' topics such as tax, poor public services, mishandling of large projects like the Dome - which is still sucking in large pots of money without an end in sight. Politicians should be allowed to get back to real issues and journalists should not be so eager to accuse them of racism.
Pat Armstrong, England

If this country had a calm, sensible approach to looking at real issues surrounding politics, race should be discussed. However, party politics seems far too centred around image, marketing and spin to allow a sensitive and serious issue like 'race' to be given the respect it deserves.
Matt, UK

This is harmful and only impedes the goals we want for this country

Stuart S, U.K
The acceptance that the U.K is a multicultural society, which benefits by the variety of cultures we have at present is a valid point to make. Britishness in my opinion is cultural rather than racial. But it is most certainly wrong to play the "race card" to accommodate those who believe that Britishness is being diluted by minorities. This leads to resentment and even violence towards minorities, which can be engendered by Powell-like rhetoric. This is harmful and only impedes the goals we want for this country, which is prosperity and harmony for all citizens, regardless of who they are.
Stuart S, U.K

In a free country, nothing should be off-limits for discussion. If we are not free to discuss and argue race issues, people who feel strongly one way or the other will feel they have to find other ways to express their opinions.
Neil, UK

There are two ways to deal with a bigot: 1.Censor them.
2. Win the argument.
John, UK

Shouldn't the MPs who have signed the pledge have actually asked their constituents first? This whole 'pledge' issue is, and I hate to agree with John Gummer, undemocratic and unconstitutional.
Andy Twiss, UK

It is wrong for an unelected body to effectively blackmail political parties by asking them to sign the agreement which is causing so much trouble. It is political correctness gone mad. I support those who do not sign - democracy might suffer if this goes to its logical conclusion i.e other organisations might start to ask the same sort of thing - no sexism, ageism etc
Steve Stansfield, UK

Robin Cook is right to attack the Tories on race issues. The Conservatives are a party that desperately clings to an idea of Englishness that holds race as its central tenet. Threats are everywhere in the Tory mindset and 'foreigners' are forever to be feared. The things Tories exist to conserve are a nationalist culture and a history that declares Britain was and is always best. Tories will cry 'political correctness!' of course but race is an issue and must be dealt with openly and honestly. Congratulations to Mr Cook for having the courage to do it.
Mark H, UK

I think that the race issue should be brought up in this election. William Hague has struck a Labour nerve, and should use all his power to exploit it.
John Caulfield, England

Representing racism as if it was the biggest problem we face is a distortion of the truth

Khan, UK
I'm sick and tired of the media and politicians going on and on about racism. Yes, racism is a terrible thing but this obsession with it is deeply unhealthy and encourages a pervasive victim and persecutor mentality that is ultimately more damaging than its manifestations. Hate crimes against women enormously outnumber hate crimes against ethnic groups. Representing racism as if it was the biggest problem we face is a distortion of the truth. All hatreds are vile and to be condemned; focusing on just one form of hatred causes us to overlook other forms.
Khan, UK

Whether race should, or should not, be an election issue is a bit of a moot point ... just by asking the question, it obviously already is!
Mark M. Newdick, USA/ UK

We live in a country that allows people the right to free speech. To avoid the subject is to deny the majority the ability to debate something that is on most people's minds. It's racist to ask people not to talk about it.
Jason, UK

Race relations should be high on the priority list of any party running for government. However it should not be used as a campaigning tool as it is a very sensitive issue. One thing is for sure and that is that Britain is now a multicultural society and that is something to be very proud of.
Doug, UK

I'm delighted to hear a senior politician make a positive public statement praising the richness of our cultural diversity, and acknowledging the historical truth about our national heritage. I hope this speech dispels once and for all the racist propaganda condoned by the 3 MPs who refused to sign the race pledge.
Andy Millward, UK

One feels that Robin Cook is making out the Conservatives' view on immigration to be racist. Surely this cannot be helpful. His words are no more than a devious election ploy, and whilst racism is a serious issue, it should not be used in the theatre of party politics.
Sean G Gibson, Brit living in Germany

Yes, race should be an issue in the election

Ian, UK
Yes, race should be an issue in the election. Afterall politicians are voted into power to represent the people of their constituency and country. This means to represent black, white, asian and all others with different nationalities. All must be treated equally, not differently. It seems there are ministers from all political parties who have outdated racist tendencies towards people from other countries, and not making this an issue is attempting to sweep the race issue under the carpet.
Ian, UK

In principle, race shouldn't be an election issue, but in practice I don't see how this can be enforced. How does one definitively distinguish the valid points from the racially-motivated statements or issues such as immigration or speaking good English in a job? And how can one tell whether an attack on another party is a genuine concern of their attitudes or just an excuse to accuse them of racism?
CNS, Durham, England

No, Mr Cook, has stirred up tensions, and quite frankly overplayed accusations of racism, which means, the true racists will be allowed to get away with terrible deeds, while everyone is concentrating on minor allegations, that are not true. We are lucky in this country that the three main political parties are not racist. There is cause for concern though. Ethnic minorities, are under-represented by all parties, 9 seats out of over 600, with the ethnic population at 6%. We should have at least 30, to be correctly representing our ethnic community - this is something that needs to see rapid change.

Race has been made an issue by Labour declaring the Tories racist. How can they then say that the Tories are trying to play the race card, or claim that they don't think race should be an issue?
Chris, England

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See also:

20 Apr 01 | UK Politics
'Blackmail' claim in race row
04 Apr 01 | UK Politics
MP defends race comments
10 Mar 01 | Scotland
Cook warns Tories over race campaign
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